A Hotbed of Ottawa Telecom Talent

by alec on May 19, 2006

Most of my day, yesterday, was taken up at the OCRI Partnership Series event titled Rolling Out a New Technology: VoIP.  Organized by University of Quebec’s Dr. Tamas Michel Koplyay, this is a series which brings local business leaders together on a regular basis to discuss business or technology issues.   It was a great event, with about 80 people showing up.  

For my part, I did a reprise of my The Future Is Here talk, which I first gave at VON Canada.  It’s a talk about Voice 2.0, and how many parts of the vision are already being realized.

Talkswitch‘s Tim Welch gave a fabulous talk on small business, and specifically on selling VoIP to small business.  There were more than a few people in the audience paying attention because small business has historically been the toughest nut to crack.  As Tim said, small business doesn’t care about VoIP.  They care about their businesses, and want communications systems that can help them do business.  He gave numerous examples.

Alcatel‘s Rob Hemmerich spoke about the role of the service provider as VoIP systems roll out.  He did a valiant job, but in the end it was hard, for me anyway, to buy into the notion that the large service providers are going to add much value beyond a pipe.  Service providers are the distributors of tomorrow.  If their products were cereal and coffee, they would be breaking bulk and carrying credit on behalf of the growers, and selling to the local grocery.  The one ray of hope seems to be in fixed-mobile convergence where Rob gave some compelling customer case studies showing how BT has been rolling out FMC products to their customers. 

Parliant‘s Kevin Ford made the case for why VoIP is not a mature technology, and should be approached with caution.   Much of what he had to say was true two years ago, but simply isn’t any more.  He spent a lot of time talking about competing protocols — SCCP from Cisco, H.323, SIP, and so on — painting a picture of confusion in the market.  SIP has won, plain and simple.  Cisco is adopting it, in favour of SCCP, and virtually no new development work is happening on H.323.  He made similar points on topics ranging from emergency service, to bandwidth, security, all of which are solved or being solved.  VoIP is not nearly the black hole that Kevin made it out to be.  I overheard one attendee say to another “what a load of bull”, so clearly the audience wasn’t buying Kevin’s argument either.

Mirko Bibic, of Bell Canada, talked about how VoIP has changed the rules of telecom, and then made the argument that because those rules have changed, the CRTC is in left field by continuing to regulate VoIP as it if were POTS.  Compelling arguments, but what would have really driven the point home is if he had contrasted how the current regulatory regime applies to Bell versus how it applies to Rogers. 

Tom Wilson, product manager with the Government of Canada’s Public Works group, walked through how they were approaching VoIP.  In typical government fashion, they’re being exhaustive.  They put out an RFI some time ago, and are now rolling out two test systems — one hosted, and one premise based — to evaluate VoIP against the 315,000 Centrex lines the Government has today. 

The final presenter of the day was ObjectWorld‘s David Levy, who began with some provocative statements like “the PBX is dead”.  David’s a great evangelist for his product, and his high energy presentation was very compelling.  I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of what he had to say, and afterward thought that his vision of IT Telephony is very similar to Voice 2.0, but taken from the point of view of enterprise, rather than carriers. 

There were some quick questions at the end.  One about security, from Third Brigade‘s Brian O’Higgins was pretty quickly addressed.  My view on VoIP security is that it’s a red herring. The security mechanisms being developed by companies like Third Brigade, and Microsoft will be ample.  The real issue with VoIP security is network based attacks (think denial of service, as applied to your phone), and companies like VoIPShield Systems are focused on the issue of network based attacks. 

The other big question asked was “What will Microsoft’s strategy be?”.  My view, which I gave, is that Microsoft will attempt to own the end-to-end platform.  The softphone, by itself, is a low value add component.  But when treated as an integration tool on the desktop it has tremendous value.  Similarly, presence, by itself, is low value add.  But when used as a platform component for automating business processes (part of David Levy’s presentation), it takes on new value.  So, Microsoft is going to try to extend their enterprise franchise to include both of these components, and partner with PBX manufacturers (who they will increasingly treat as gateways to the analog world). 

This was a great session.  There were a bunch of familiar faces in the crowd, like Versature‘s Paul Emond, and myJabber‘s Barry Lee, as well as new folks.  I spoke with iotum’s own Steve Lecomte afterwards, who told me that he had managed to recruit four new members to the nascent Ottawa Asterisk Users Group as well.  Kudos to OCRI, Dr. Koplyay, and organizer Terry D’Angelo. In my opinion, this event showed just what a hotbed of communications talent Ottawa has.Â

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